Celebrating in the shadow of the Arab Spring, it was a itting coincidence for fans of the late great master, as Mahfouz was undoubtedly the most proliic chronicler of social transformation in modern Egyptian history. And it is not diicult to see why. In this essay I try to untangle what that might mean. What would such an aesthetics look like? How did Mahfouz construct it and why?
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Celebrating in the shadow of the Arab Spring, it was a itting coincidence for fans of the late great master, as Mahfouz was undoubtedly the most proliic chronicler of social transformation in modern Egyptian history. And it is not diicult to see why. In this essay I try to untangle what that might mean. What would such an aesthetics look like? How did Mahfouz construct it and why? At the core of his novel lie two fiGure 1.
A neighborhood brigade in Cairo. Photograph by the author. Egyptians still recall seeing bootleg copies of the book being sold at stands along the highway to Alexandria Abdel Nasser. Attempts were made to publish the novel over the decades, but always with the same re- sult. But the novel was banned immediately following its last installment El-Bahrawi. But also apparent is the remarkable luidity of his prose, the ease with which he pulls together a story that spans over ive generations, an innumerable cast of characters, sprawling associational ties, marital disputes, political dealings, conspiracies, and wars.
Clear as day are his perennial use of syntactical symmetry and mastery in leshing out characters through action and dialogue. In it he assembles a series of articles he wrote over the course of two years and in various journals and periodicals as part of a push to revive interest in the novel. Mahfouz survived, but was unable to use his arm to write. HorizonS of interpretation As Richard Jacquemond aptly noted, the sad irony surrounding the history of this novel is that much of the controversy appeared to have little to do with the meaning of the novel itself.
It is a itting testament to the period in this way. But it also tapped into an important undercurrent to the revolution that was only just beginning to take shape. Nor was it until the mid-ities, fol- lowing the attempted assassination of Nasser, and the subsequent arrest and perse- cution of thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, that the most signii- cant cultural fault lines in Egyptian society began to emerge.
At no time was it involved in a mystical faith in a divine right of something or other, or in lights of vision about a Utopia, but always took the bull by the horns and called things by their names. Above all, it has always been remarkably moderate, pragmatic, with very little theory about it, and certainly with no excesses or brutalities. Antagonism between the military elite and the Islam- ists, the basic tension that deines the political landscape across much of the Islamic world today, began only ater , and it did not become a reality until , ater the British had let for good Rogan Not surprisingly, some of the richest interpretations of the novel to date have been developed by historians and geared towards just such a political horizon of interpretation.
But his focus on direct correla- tions of the text to political eventualities, in literary terms, difers only slightly from the kind of religious interpretations Mahfouz so stridently rejected. A close reading of the novel also helps overturn this presumption. One need not dismiss the political horizon altogether, however. But Jameson makes an important distinction between the two. In literary-aesthetic terms, one might see the third horizon of allegory in an author like Proust a writer Mahfouz re- ferred to oten , where the rich, mnemonic prose, is, in essence, the content of the work.
It is also this antagonistic spirit that generates in his characters, paradoxically, a will to transparency. Finding refuge in a neighborhood far from his home, he begins life anew. He grows a beard and marries a local girl with whom he has three sons. Time passes until one day he is revisited by his terrible fate. When the security situation spiraled out of control on 28 January, , following the disappearance of the police force, the men of Cairo, young and old, took to the streets to form popular brigades.
Clubs of all shapes and sizes appeared. Some were fortiied with metal tips, others with little more than a broomstick. Sayf al-Dawla [d. Signiicantly, for Derrida, it is precisely this paradoxical role that Abraham plays in the history of Western civil society.
He lit the candle and saw two eyes looking at him. Despite his confusion, he saw that the eyes were those of an old black man who was lying on a bed facing the inside of the room. And despite his confusion and his terror, he saw that the old man was struggling out of the dreamland between sleep and consciousness; perhaps the sound made by striking the match had stirred him.
Involuntarily, unfeelingly, he pounced at him and seized his neck in his right hand, squeezing with all his might. But the order they preserve—a militant hierarchy—can only be broken, it cannot bend or evolve. In the absence of police.
Cairo, 29 January For Bergson, revolution begins as a moral calling to openness, irrespective of class. And while war provides the moment of reckoning between closed and open moralities, modern democracy, for Bergson, like Mahfouz, is the quintessential ex- pression of both. It is not a philosophical system of the world, explained the author, but rather a unique metaphysics of a particular instance of social engagement, or, in other words, a metaphysical meditation on the experience of democracy in late s Egypt.
Its meaning is universal insofar as the experience of the intellec- tual, political and physical antagonism between a secular, socialist majority and a powerful sector of fundamentalists is an experience that is universally recog- nizable.
Unless indicated by an English title, all translations are my own. He wrote about it throughout his career. Personal Interview by Nathaniel Greenberg. Abdel-Latif, Omayama. Abu-Haidar, Jareer. Allen, Roger M. Syracuse, N. Y: Syracuse University Press, El-Bahrawi, Sayed. Baker, Raymond William. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, Bergson, Henri, R.
Ashley Audra, Cloudesley Brereton, and W. Horsfall Carter. New York: H. Holt, New York: Oxford University Press, Cahen, Claude. Leiden: E. Brill, Cobham, Catherine. Derrida, Jacques. Chicago: University of Chicago, El-Enany, Rasheed. Arabic thought and culture. London: Routledge, Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. New York: Seabury Press, Gran, Peter. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, Ibn, Jubayr M. A, and Ronald J.
London: J. Cape, Jacquemond, Richard. Jameson, Fredric. Ithaca, N. Y: Cornell University Press, London: Hillway Pub. Co, Children of the Alley.
Paul hereaux. New York: Doubleday, Catherine Cobham. Cairo: Akhbar al-Yawm, Arles: Actes sud, Matar, Nabil. Mehrez, Samia. Routledge advances in Middle East and Islamic studies, Milson, Menahem.
Children of Gebelawi
Reception[ edit ] It was originally published in Arabic in , in serialised form, in the daily newspaper Al-Ahram. It was met with severe opposition from religious authorities, and publication in the form of a book was banned in Egypt. As a result, in — a day after the anniversary of the prize — Mahfouz was attacked and stabbed in the neck by two extremists outside his Cairo home. Synopsis[ edit ] The story recreates the interlinked history of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam , allegorised against the setting of an imaginary 19th century Cairene alley. Critics claimed that Gabalawi stands for God. Mahfouz rejected this, saying that he stood for "a certain idea of God that men have made" and that "Nothing can represent God.
CHILDREN OF GEBELAWI
Children of the Alley